Sports

Forces collide at Fenway

BOSTON -- It is the Colorado Rockies' magic carpet ride against the Boston Red Sox' smooth, then anxious, then captivating roller-coaster ride. It is the history-drenched Red Sox against the not-ready-for-a-

driver's-permit Rockies. It is the thin air against the Green Monster. It is the Rocks and the Sox in the 103rd World Series.

On a warm, breezy day, the teams worked out at Fenway Park on Tuesday in preparation for tonight's Game 1. The Red Sox pummeled the flat-footed Indians in three consecutive elimination games to march into position for their second World Series title in four seasons. The Rockies have won 21 of their last 22, including seven playoff games in a row, and are searching for their first championship after only 15 years as a franchise.

Still, the Rockies do not have as much postseason experience or as much star power as the bigger-market and higher-paid Red Sox.

The rolling Rockies embraced the idea.

"Hopefully, we're the underdogs," said shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who played in 2005 for the Modesto Nuts, Colorado's Class A affiliate. "That's how we've been the whole time. I think if you would have told someone that the Rockies were going to make the World Series, they would have laughed at you at the beginning of the year. And here we are."

That notion was not accepted by the Red Sox, especially by their closer, Jonathan Papelbon, who unleashed a comic rant after it was suggested that Boston is favored to rattle the Rockies.

"How are we the favorite when they won 25 games in a row or whatever?" Papelbon said.

It is a valid question. The Rockies have not lost a road game in nearly six weeks. But they have also not played a game in eight days, so they grinned through an avalanche of questions about whether the layoff would hurt them. The Detroit Tigers had six days off before the World Series last season and stumbled in losing to the seemingly inferior St. Louis Cardinals in five games.

"We're not the Tigers," Rockies first baseman Todd Helton said.

While the Red Sox were fighting to keep their season alive, the Rockies, who swept the Diamondbacks to earn the extra days off, played simulated games. They hit against their pitchers, they ran the bases and they tried to make an October practice seem as much like an October game as possible.

If there is one team that did not need a break, it is a club that has won 21 of its last 22 games. No matter how many simulated innings Colorado played, there is nothing that matches the intensity of an actual game. The Rockies, who will start Jeff Francis against Boston's Josh Beckett in the opener, said that they benefited from the time off and were not worried about feeling rusty.

"We've done all we can do, without going to the Dominican Summer League at this point," Helton said. "You just got to throw it out there and hopefully play like we've been playing."

In addition to the possible impact of the time off, the Rockies must face Beckett, the last pitcher anyone usually wants to see in October. Beckett is 3-0 with a 1.17 ERA in the playoffs and has pitched and behaved like the most intimidating kid on the block. He has a 98-mph fastball and believes no one can touch him.

"Beckett, he's the man," Boston's backup catcher Doug Mirabelli said. "He's a bad guy. Like Manny Ramirez might say, he's a bad man. I don't know how anybody hits him."

Mirabelli must have experienced a short-term memory loss. The Rockies hit Beckett and hit him hard during a 7-1 interleague victory at Fenway Park on June 14. With Willy Taveras and Kazuo Matsui offering speed at the top and Matt Holliday, Helton, Garret Atkins, Braw Hawpe and Tulowitzki providing power after that, the Rockies have the kind of stacked lineup that Beckett is used to seeing in places like the Bronx, Cleveland and Anaheim.

"They remind me a lot of an American League team," Beckett said of the Rockies. "They can hit."

Francis, who is 2-0 with a 2.13 ERA in the postseason, held Boston scoreless for five innings in beating Beckett more than four months ago. Francis called Fenway "a special place," but said the Rockies are "not blown away" by being here because they have been here before. The Rockies toppled Beckett and Curt Schilling in winning two of the three games, but both teams discounted the importance of a series that occurred at a much different time.

Now the Rockies will try to continue their magical ride while the Red Sox will try to finish theirs as smoothly as they finished their amazing ride to a title in 2004. These Rockies have lost once in more than a month. These Red Sox rarely lose the October games that matter the most. Only one of these rides will end blissfully.

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